In just a few days, 2016 will come to an end.
While it wasn’t much of a year for celebrities or civil politics, it was a heck of a year for Miami County athletics, as a number of teams and individuals had banner seasons.
After crowning two state champions — the Miami East volleyball team and the Troy girls bowling team — watching a number of other local teams advance deep into the postseason and seeing dozens of individuals place at the state level, it’s safe to say 2016 will be tough to top.
So, how will things go in 2017? Can it possibly top the year we just had? That remains to be seen. I am, however, willing to go out on a limb and make five bold and fearless predictions for the year to come:
5) Miami County will have a state champion wrestler
At last year’s state wrestling championships, Miami County failed to produce a state champion for the first time since 2011 and only the second time since 2005.
In the past decade, Miami County’s schools have combined to win a total of 23 individual state championships. All of those individual titles have been won by Troy Christian (17), Covingon (three) and Miami East (three). None of those three schools had ever won a state title prior to 2005, when Miami East’s Ryan Gambill got things rolling for Miami Count by winning the first of his three state titles.
In the 68 years prior to Miami County’s incredible run of state champs beginning in 2005, the county had produced a grand total of just three state champions — Troy’s Todd Darbyshire in 1982, Milton-Union’s Joe Creech in 1996 and Tippecanoe’s Nathan Jackson in 1999.
There’s too much wrestling talent — and too much good coaching — in Miami County to go back to way things were prior to 2005, or even to go two years in a row.
There were several near misses at the state meet last year — Troy Christian’s Jacob Edwards was a state runner-up, while Miami East’s Graham Shore placed third — along with a host of state placers.
Depending on how the weight classes shake out — and assuming Miami County’s top wrestlers can stay healthy — I fully expect a county wrestler to be standing atop the podium in Columbus this March.
4) Morgan Gigandet will further cement herself as one of the greatest athletes in Troy history
Some would argue that Gigandet — who is just a little more than halfway through her high school career — already should be considered one of the greatest athletes in school history.
The cross country and track star already owns pretty much every distance race record in school history and already is a four-time state placer — twice in cross country and twice in track and field — with three more opportunities to come.
Truthfully, the only thing missing from Gigandet’s resume is a state championship in either cross country or track, but she’s been in contention three times — placing in the top five in her last two state cross country meets and placing third in the 3,200 at last year’s state track and field meet.
If she stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe she won’t contend for a state title either in her final state cross country meet or one of her final two state track and field meets.
Regardless of whether she gets that elusive state title, Gigandet is a once-in-a-generation performer. There’s never been anyone like her before at Troy — and it may be a very long time (if ever) before we see another one like her again.
In 2017, Gigandet will only continue to add to her already impressive legacy.
3) Troy will reclaim the GWOC American North All-Sports Trophy (but it will be interesting)
Troy’s run of five straight Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division All-Sports Trophy titles came to an end last year, as Butler outscored the Trojans 119.5 to 113.3.
The Aviators built a nearly insurmountable lead in the fall and winter and led the Trojans by 11 points going into the spring. The Trojans were able to make up nearly half that deficit with four division titles in the spring, but the deficit proved to be too much to overcome.
This year, the Trojans actually hold a nine-point lead over Butler. Troy should do well in the winter and will be favored in a number of sports in the spring.
Of course, the addition of Tippecanoe to the GWOC American North will, however, make this the most interesting race in years. The Red Devils actually took a one-point lead in the fall and lead Troy 47-46 in the all-sports trophy standings.
For the past decade, it’s been a two-horse race for the North trophy between Troy and Butler. It remains to be seen how the addition of a third contender will shake things up this year.
Still, though, the safe money is on the Trojans reclaiming the title in 2017.
2) The Miami East volleyball team will repeat as state champions
When you look at what Miami East has returning from last year’s Division III state championship team — namely a pair of All-Ohio performers in Kyndall Hellyer and Jonni Parker — along with a host of talented young players who played key roles last season, the thought of East repeating as state champs in 2017 doesn’t seem like a particularly bold or fearless prediction.
Still, though, the Vikings will lose five seniors — Jillian Wesco, Taylor McCuiston, Reagan Morrett, Carly Gump and Sidney Pelfrey — all of whom played key roles last fall, to graduation.
Also, Miami East did lose five games last season and got pushed to the brink in both the state semifinals and state championship matches. Also, it’s a long season and anything can happen between August and November.
Still, though, with the return of Hellyer and Parker — who might just be the best high school volleyball player in the state, regardless of division — returning along with a host of underclassmen, it’s not premature to think the Vikings can win back-to-back titles in 2017, just as it did in 2011 and 2012.
1) Troy football is here to stay
It’s easy to look at the losses the Troy football team will suffer to graduation — particularly on the offensive side of the ball — following its magical 2016 season and assume the Trojans will take a huge step back in 2017.
Don’t count on it.
Sure, the Trojans lose record-setting quarterback and three-year starter Hayden Kotwica, all-star running back Josh Browder, starting tackles Travis Hall and Dylan Sedam and two of its leading receivers, Zion Taylor and Hayden Jackson on offense.
Kotwica, Hall and Browder all were All-Ohio performers.
On defense, the losses aren’t nearly as deep, but the Trojans still lose linebackers Will Brumfield and Michael Murray, along with safety Jake Anderson.
Those are heavy losses from a 10-2 team that won the Trojans’ first league title in 16 years and advanced to the Division II regional semifinals.
Still, though, I wouldn’t expect to the Trojans to take a huge step back. There’s plenty of talent returning on both sides of the ball. Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback won’t be easy, but I feel confident there are enough pieces in place in other positions to ease that transition.
Also, help is on the way. Troy’s junior varsity team lost just one game all season, while Troy’s freshman team went undefeated and largely unchallenged.
There’s a solid foundation in place at Troy. Brighter days are ahead.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong